Friday, October 23, 2009

Elvis Perkins in Deerland
Doomsday EP
XL Recordings

This EP revolves around a song from this band’s self-titled album that was released earlier this year. There are two versions of the tile track, one the album version, and a new slow version, with two traditional folk songs, and two new originals.

Perkins and his band play, write and sing very well. However, the songs on the EP, like the full length album, sound like a less experimental Michael Penn, with lyrics that try to shoulder the weight of the world on them. Perkins sings like Michael Penn, and without Penn’s caustic air. The title tracks are meant to be ironically lighthearted, but in the end sound pretentious. Michael Penn continues to turn out better music than this, and there is no reason Penn should be replaced by Perkins.
Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spiral Stairs
The Real Feel
Matador Records

This is Bob “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg’s first true solo album, and the first record from him since Preston School of Industry’s 2004 album "Monsoon." Kannberg was also a founding member of Pavement.

His theme is his divorce from his first wife, and the emotional devastation that followed, from which he emerged as a happier, healthier person. The lyrics are dark, but not gloomy, they recount the darkness he felt, and what it took to bring him back into the light. He’s positive that music will hold him together, even though there were times he felt he could not make music anymore. This is all accomplished without making the lyrics or the theme a clichĂ©. That’s not easy to do, but he makes it look easy.

Musically, this album is mix and match, some Rumors/Tusk era Fleetwood Mac, some Dylan circa Blood on the Tracks/Desire, the deep blues of Nick Cave, the plainspoken honesty of the Go-Betweens, and Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Stairs has managed to blend these very different sounds and bands together very well, with the help of bassist Matt Harris, drummer Darius Minwalla, the Posies Jon Auer, and his friends in Australia. Australia will also be his home from now on, because he has a fiancĂ© there.

The Real Feel is an album rich with musical and lyrical detail. It feels real. It’s his world. Welcome to a great album. []
Andrea Weiss

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division
The Inside Story of the First Openly Gay Pop-Punk Band
Jon Ginoli
Cleis Press, 2009

This out and proud memoir starts out as a coming out/coming of age story. Ginoli was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, came out to himself as a teen, and got into 70s punk rock, especially Tom Robinson, the UK's first out punk rocker. He moved to Champaign to attend college, and found himself more comfortable in Champaign's underground music scene than the gay club scene. He started a band named The Outnumbered, which had some success, and signed with Homestead records. Ginoli wasn't out publicly at the time, his lyrics were closeted, with no-gender specific pronouns, and nothing that could be construed as openly gay.

Ginoli moved to L.A. after graduation to work at a music store, and later at Rough Trade. He didn't like L.A. and moved to San Francisco, where he got involved with ACT-UP, and occasionally rallies and demonstrations with Queer Nation. He got the idea to form a gay pop-punk band from the wonderful lesbian folk/punk band Two Nice Girls, who, along with Phranc, predated Melissa Etheridge and were a lot more out than she and other out musicians who followed.

Ginoli wanted to put into song what he got from performance artist Karen Finley, a woman who celbrated feminism and denounced sexism in very radical terms and Two Nice Girls. He wanted rock with a clear, direct, and fun viewpoint about being out and gay. Ginoli wrote funny and dirty songs about sex that were personal and political statements. "ANTHEM" from the first Pansy Division album, has lyrics about disliking Judy Garland, who is a gay icon. Garland's status was based on rumors that she was gay friendly. A new generation of out musicians was coming to the fore who wanted an alternative to standard gay male and lesbian culture.

Pansy Division is a play on words and a protest on the Panzer Division, a WW 2 German army unit that sent l/b/g/t people to the camps, too. It was the right name at the right time. “Homocore” or “queercore” (the terms were interchangeable) was just starting as a trend, and the band got lumped in with that scene, even though they didn’t like hardcore. But the trend got them signed with Lookout Records, where they met Green Day.

Green Day had been Lookout Records' biggest seller, who eventually signed with Warner Brothers. Their first album was a huge hit, and the band decided to mess with their newfound jock audience by taking Pansy Division on tour with them. Suddenly Pansy Division had a taste of the mainstream, liked it, and had loads of fun. The women who went to the Green Day shows became the biggest fans of Pansy Division on that tour. They liked Pansy Division's music and their message that some guys, no matter if they're gay or straight, can be jerks. There was much homophobia, though, from other, mostly male fans, and people in the industry. There were times when Green Day refused to play if Pansy Division couldn’t play. Green Day won those points.

The lesson from touring with Green Day was that Pansy Division found what worked and what didn’t work musically. They remained on Lookout and toured all over the world. There was still lots of homophobia, even from out musicians, and many people found their viewpoint a little too extreme. Dustin, a neurotic drummer whose problems caused much tension within the band, eventually was asked to leave the band. And the scene which had spawned feminist and out punk rock bands slowly faded.

In later years, Pansy Division found their niche, with a solid audience, and are still together today. Their songs also became more relationship-oriented.

Ginoli is a good writer, wry, honest, and has a light touch on some of the little wrinkles about being gay and liking rock. That he tells his story so well made this book a must read, a window on an alternative that was needed then, and is needed now.
Andrea Weiss

Monday, October 12, 2009

Alela and Alina
Alela and Alina
Rough Trade

Alela Diane is a 25 year old folk singer from Portland OR, and Alina Harding is a friend of hers. This 6 song EP is a companion piece to Diane’s terrific To Be Still, released in February of this year on Rough Trade.

To be Still is a wonderful mix and match of 70s, 90s and 21st folk: “Diamonds and Rust” era Joan Baez, early Kate and Anna McGarrigle crossed with Katryna Nields
and Beth Orton vocally. Diane draws on Joanna Newsom for lyrics. Diane's lyrics are even quirkier than Newsome’s but the meanings are easier to understand. In lesser hands this album would have been a mess, but Diane’s sure vision keeps all three elements together seamlessly.

The Alela and Alina EP has the sound of To Be still, with Harding’s voice adding Katryna's sister Nerissa , or a second Beth Orton. The first four songs are new, and all are excellent, both women harmonize very well, like on “Bowling Green” where they wish they were in that town and with their lover. The Child Ballad, “Matty Groves”, made famous by Fairport Convention, with its stark, bare bones updating, fits into the folk tradition of learning songs to pass them on expertly, and gracefully. Rounding things out is a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Rake” which ends a great EP on a sad, wistful note, but one with a sense of uplift through tragedy. []
Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kurt Vile
Childish Prodigy

On Vile’s first album on Matador, he sounds as if he’s trying to imitate Iggy Pop, if Iggy was a folk singer. Vile is very good at that too, he has Iggy down pretty well, and he is an excellent amplified acoustic guitar player who uses various effects such as reverb nicely. It is just Vile and a guitar on most of these tracks.

The two best tracks are the ones where he is himself, and not Iggy. “Blackberry Song” is with a full band, and is a true pop song with a hummable melody and drums that skip along to the music happily. Vile sings without affect, a relief. The album’s one big flaw is that he mumbles his lyrucs.

“Inside Looking Out” is a true folk song. Vile sounds like himself here, too, it's also the best of the one man band songs. To sum up, two great songs, the rest good, and an album that hints at much good music to be made in the future. []
Andrea Weiss

The Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come
4 AD Records

The nicely melodic, sometimes happy folk pop of this album is at odds with the grim lyrics about losing faith, death, being too depressed about not having faith, and wanting escape from a dull, meaningless life. But is John Darnielle writing about his own life, or creating fiction?

Darnielle keeps his cards close to his vest on the answer to this question, which is good, as it opens up the lyrics to interpretation. These songs are named after various Bible verses, trying to match the verses to the songs provides little clarity. The music is good to hum to, the music sticks around long after the album is finished, and lyrics to ponder.
Andrea Weiss

The XX
XXYoung Turk/XL Recordings

This soft-spoken, fragile, slow indie rock collapses under it’s own weight, which is light, by the end of the album. Lyrically, it’s a couple trying desperately to decide if they want to become romantically involved. In the end, this is melodramatic silliness, which is more than enough of a reason to skip this album. []
Andrea Weiss


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